Five Ole Miss players who need a big off-season

QB Bo Wallace: He will meet with specialist Tom House on May 17 for advice on how to strengthen his shoulder. This is the last go-round for Wallace. He’s made big plays and won big games, but he’s had enough bad plays to earn criticism from his fan base.

Bo Wallace will never have a 100 percent approval rating. That’s OK.

He can become more consistent, however, less prone to turnovers. He threw only 10 interceptions last year, but there’s that four-turnover game in the regular season finale that will not be forgotten or forgiven.

When you consider he had 17 interceptions in 2012, having only six through 10 games in remarkable. His touchdowns were down slightly also, from 22 to 18.

By setting up Bo and House, Freeze is pulling out all the stops to ensure that Wallace has every possible advantage – specifically health and conditioning – to make it possible for his senior season to be his best.

Barring something unforeseen, we should not be hearing about Wallace’s shoulder in November.

That means Wallace has to consistently make good decisions and deliver the ball on time with accuracy. While the interceptions were fewer, there we plenty of passes that could have been picked but were not. That happens in the ebb and flow of the season.

Wallace needs to ensure that happens less and get the ball to playmakers in space more.

RB I’Tavius Mathers: The junior from Murfreesboro was very impressive on limited carries in the Grove Bowl, that coming off a sophomore season in which he averaged 5.9 yards a carry. Mathers led the team with 563 rushing yards last year, but Jaylen Walton was right behind him with 523, and you didn’t see Walton in the final spring scrimmage, because he was hurt.

A radio host in Chattanooga asked me earlier this week if I thought Mathers would rush for 1,000 yards. My response was no, because there is talent around him in the backfield, and the carries will be shared. It think it will play out that way, but if Mathers commits himself to the off-season he could change things.

Here’s Freeze on Mathers after the Grove Bowl: “We’ve got some good backs, but I think I’Tavius Mathers is special. The last two days, today he made a phenomenal run, and there was a run he made yesterday, an 80-yard touchdown, where he made two guys miss in space, and you want to say that guy has improved. I’m excited about a lot of those backs.”

C Ben Still: Going into spring drills OL coach Matt Luke thought he’d be moving junior guard Justin Bell over to the center competition.

He liked enough of what he saw from Still, a junior, and Robert Conyers, a third-year sophomore and converted tackle, that he never made that switch.

Still left drills as the No. 1, but Luke says Conyers isn’t far behind. The competition will continue into August, but it’s Still’s job to lose.

It’s a huge win for the OL if Luke has the confidence that Still can handle the job. That leaves Bell at guard where he’s more comfortable, and it means in-coming freshman Rod Taylor doesn’t have to be rushed into a starting role. Taylor can be groomed at a more comfortable pace, perhaps as a backup at both guard spots.

It’s a similar situation for Austin Golson at right tackle. Juco transfer Fahn Cooper will compete for the job. One of those two will likely be Laremy Tunsil’s backup. Hopefully for Ole Miss, Tunsil doesn’t have to come off the field much.

DT Robert Nkemdiche: Nkemdiche was dominant in the bowl game and should benefit from beginning the season at tackle and getting all his reps there.

He says the civil lawsuit filed against he and his brother, Denzel, and Denzel’s suspension, are not distractions for him, but summer is a time for thoughts to wander. It’s a time with less team structure, and a time that such matters could become more of a distraction.

I like Nkemdiche’s chances to be really good at tackle, not just a guy who ties up blockers, but a guy who makes plays. When a guy is doing that it can only make opposing centers have even more trouble with a small, quick guy like Issac Gross.

WR Quincy Adeboyejo: At the start of practice last August Freeze tossed out the word “special” to describe the potential for Adeboyejo, his young wide receiver.

Clearly, Adeboyejo had hoped for more balls thrown his way in his first year. From what we’ve seen he hasn’t sulked but has embraced the move to slot receiver in an effort to get on the field.

He showed flashes of potential last year with seven catches for 81 yards and a touchdown.

He needs an off-season of focus and hard work to show Freeze he’s ready to put up numbers similar to what Laquon Treadwell did last year when he caught 72 balls as the slot guy.

All the spring buzz was about Treadwell. Vince Sanders was a forgotten guy in the spring, because he was out with injury.

While Freeze wants to build depth at the position, Sanders and Adeboyejo plus Treadwell give this group a pretty good trio at the top.

Provided Adeboyejo takes the freshman-to-sophomore step forward.

Denham Springs, La., native, Mississippian since 1989 with a stop in Meridian before arriving in Tupelo. Daily Journal beat writer since 1996, covering Ole Miss since 2002. Proud Northeast Louisiana alum. Follow me on Twitter @parrishalford and listen to John Davis and myself daily with The Ole Miss Beat on Rebel Sports Radio.

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